Tuesday, March 3, 2009
25 Random Things: Ambiguity
One of my favorite features of the facebook experience is reading the "25 Random Things About Me" notes posted by others. I've been tagged a few times, but I've yet to compile my list. I do think about this exercise a lot, however,
and have decided that I'll release my random list
into cyberspace one bit at a time,
exploring the "things" a little more deeply.
So here is Number 1:
I have a high tolerance for ambiguity. When I was a graduate student in English and comparative literature, I read (and then taught, at Trinity College Dublin) William Empson's classic, Seven Types of Ambiguity. (A quick trip over on that link will give you an idea; I'll spare you the essay exam.)
Here's a little summary, stolen from Wikipedia:
• The first type of ambiguity is the metaphor, that is, when two things are said to be alike which have different properties. This concept is similar to that of metaphysical conceit.
• Two or more meanings are resolved into one. Empson characterizes this as using two different metaphors at once.
• Two ideas that are connected through context can be given in one word simultaneously.
• Two or more meanings that do not agree but combine to make clear a complicated state of mind in the author.
• When the author discovers his idea in the act of writing. Empson describes a simile that lies halfway between two statements made by the author.
• When a statement says nothing and the readers are forced to invent a statement of their own, most likely in conflict with that of the author.
• Two words that within context are opposites that expose a fundamental division in the author's mind.
So let me say it again, in a slightly more complex, ambiguous way: I have a high regard for ambiguity, and have never met a metaphysical conceit that I didn't like. I also really like the idea of "making clear a complicated state of mind in the author."
There's a novel called Seven Types of Ambiguity, too, by Australian writer Elliot Perlman.